Internet impresario’s intriguing remarks

By : |January 6, 2008 0

MUMBAI, INDIA: Honesty and an unswerving uprightness has always remained the cornerstone for entrepreneurs who have aimed to make a mark. As we commenced our meeting with one of the most distinguished entrepreneurs in our country – Ajit Balakrishnan, chairman and CEO of Rediff.comAjit Balakrishnan, chairman and CEO of Rediff.com, it was not tough to fathom the steady growth shown by Rediff.com since going live on Christmas Day in 1995.

Balakrishnan in his characteristic soft tone states, “Respect for the individual. Current generation does not work in company which does not value them as an individual. We spend a lot of time in training and 50 per cent of my time goes in training if not more,” clearly reflecting the belief that has kept the company ticking even as many of its competitors shut up during days of adversity.

The company has maintained a sturdy development in the last 12 years. It is quite interesting to note that Balakrishnan, an IIM Calcutta alumnus, had laid the foundation of an advertising agency named Rediffusion (now known as Rediffusion DY&R) before starting Rediff.com. As we made our way into the headquarters of Rediff.com at Mahim, Mumbai, the head honcho welcomed us and our interaction embarked on the initial years of setting up this enterprise.

                                 

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Balakrishnan made a fascinating remark on the era when Netscape ruled the Internet spaces and Internet Explorer (IE) was playing the catch up game. “Lot of people debated that why Netscape failed and it’s generally attributed it to the wicked ways of Microsoft. But that is not so. When the first codes of Netscape were written, the founders were college kids. Marc Andreessen and Jim Clark and when they wrote the codes, did not know how to actually architect them and wrote what is called the spaghetti codes and when you update the versions, it can be very long and can run into about five million lines in browser and they could not keep up with that, and to get to the next version became difficult.”

He goes on to point where Microsoft scored its points. "What Microsoft did well was that they know how to architect these codes and that is what they do for a living. They licensed it from the work that Andreessen and others had done from the University of Illinois. They partitioned it in such a way that they could improve each piece and that is why Netscape could not keep up with IE.”

According to Balakrishnan, Flash is witnessing a similar battle. He remarks, “Very few are actually noticing it. Flash today has about 98 per cent market share and Microsoft has a good answer. These battles keep continuing and game developers already prefer the Microsoft’s Silverlight.”

Despite the presence of countless websites at our disposal on every topic under the sun, the penetration of Internet in India is below par. Balakrishnan notes, “We have 27 million users in India and that’s growing at 25 per cent Year-on-Year.” So where is the issue? The issue really is that we lost a long period when the user base did not grow at all and we are paying the price for that.”

He goes on to explicate the work done by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL). “The rate of Internet growth has been spurred by the good work done by BSNL. What they have done is that they have taken Internet to small towns. I think the good work was done by BSNL and second, the broadband offer made by them is catching and it’s economical.”

Talking about the hot topic of social networking, Balakrishnan opines, “I think two-three years back people primarily used email messenger, but in the last 18 months social networking sites have mushroomed up well and Orkut, which earlier saw a surge is seeing a decline and users are increasingly switching to Facebook. We had an early entry into this arena called ‘Connexions’ and active base of about a million. But I think what has taken off is ‘Boy meets Girl’ in social networking and there is no other purpose than to try and get a connection. Social networking is the real phenomena in the last 18 months.”

Video is another domain that, Balakrishnan believes, is taking off in a big way. “Trends such as iShare, YouTube and video distribution channels are a big thing. Social networking sites and video are the two mega trends that we have hot up.”

Balakrishnan is quite vocal about the practices undertaken by Rediff.com to handle malicious practices that have of late affected many Internet domains.

“What happens with Orkut cannot happen here and we are super cautious about it. We have been very careful after all we run a business in the Indian social system and cannot do a playboy in India. We watch it all the time and we are using the moderations in the message board and you can report abuse. When you have millions of users, we cannot have one team monitoring them all the time. All of us are there on it all the time.”

Our point of discussion moved to Rediffusion DY&R, which was his first baby and where he currently functions at the board level. He recounts, “The main fun in an advertising agency is producing creative ads and when we started in 73 — there were no creative ads at that time. The first year we won a handful of awards and got us lots of clients and today there are 10 agencies that are doing good job. We got a lot of enjoyment doing that.”

While elucidating on his leadership traits, Balakrishnan mentions, “Youngsters today are willing to work 24 hours a day, they are much better educated and larger collection of brighter people than when I started out. Give them a goal and the resources and they get it done for you. Involving people in goal setting is very important and they work 24 hours to achieve that. Again, you have to be an expert at locating missing skills in a guy and get the work done in a much better way. Once this is in place, people are ready to die for you.”

Balakrishnan strikes an elusive balance between his work and family life. He is an avid reader and prefers reading non-fiction work. For those who plan to venture independently, Balakrishnan offers his pearl of wisdom: “To set up an enterprise, there wouldn’t be a better time than today. Climate is right and there is capital available and that’s a new thing in the last 5-7 years and it would only increase in the future. There are markets for young people to strike out and young people are brighter and better educated today.”

He however, points out an area of concern. “Missing gap today is not many people willing to be angel investors or micro investors.” While our discussion may have concluded, we were witness to Ajit Balakrishnan’s sharp business acumen and keen eye to garner a first mover advantage that has weaved a platform for the Indian Diaspora to communicate with one another and share their views on countless issues bringing them ONLINE forever.

© CyberMedia News

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